Here’s How We Can All Be More Innovative At Work

Here’s How We Can All Be More Innovative At Work

In case you haven’t had any kind of digital or in-person encounter with me in the last little while, you should know now I love the theatre. I’m obsessed with music. Really rate a good book and totally dig beautiful art. I also really like being a bit weird and different. In fact, I’m completely into most things that involve being creative or approaching things in a unique way.

For me, it’s a key part of being an individual and is at the heart of how we can continue to find new ways of leading change in communities across Australia. But innovation? Is that the same as being creative? Isn’t that something that’s only for businesses looking to make more money? And why is everyone using this word ALL the time? Does it actually mean anything?

Great questions! I asked myself quite similar ones when I was offered the role of Senior Manager, Special Projects and Innovation at FYA late last year. I’m into it, but what exactly does being innovative mean?

 innovation scare quotes GIF

About 18 months ago our leader Malcolm Turnbull announced that he was investing $1 Billion in an “ideas boom” that promoted innovation to lead Australia out of the mining boom and into a 21st Century economy. In a touching speech, he also said he had faith in our “creative and imaginative nation.” Well shucks Malcs, I think I totally agree.

It is true, the robots are coming. FYA’s research shows that 70% of current jobs are predicted to be affected by automation by 2050. And so you and I, and all of us, are going to have to learn to work with robots and come up with new industries that help stimulate the economy to continue to create the kind of society we want to live in. So yeah, innovation is important and will continue to be, particularly in the future of work.

BUT, for me what is equally important is how innovation can help in addressing the significant global challenges that are playing out right here in Australia. Things like climate change and rising inequality, which is directly related to transitioning into that 21st Century economy that our friend Malcolm Turnbull spoke about AND my point above about building the right environment for our future.

So yep, innovation is important. But like most business buzzwords (eg agile, startup, lean, etc., etc.,you get my drift), they can be pretty annoying and a bit of a mystery sometimes. What does being innovative actually mean anyway?

Instead of me just telling you my take on innovation straight up (see my point about approaching things in my own way) I decided to do one of my other favourite things and ask other people what they think the answer is first. Because if we’re all using it and none of us really know what it means, then that, my friends, really is a buzzword. I asked a bunch of young people that I am lucky enough to work with what their take on this lofty word is. And they told me the following pieces of gold:

  • It’s about new ideas that are “out of the box”.
  • It can also being thinking inside the box, but in a different way.
  • Ideas that make a difference.

They also told me that ways to innovate can be right in front of us and can be really simple but we just haven’t figured it out yet.

So how do I think about innovation? As someone whose job includes the word in the title and who is obsessed with social justice? So glad you asked. For me, innovation means “change that adds value”. This requires having a process of experimenting so that you can test those new and unique ideas (either outside or inside of the box), learn from what works, and then implement something that actually makes a difference, like addressing inequality or climate change. See? It’s not all about making money.

A great example of this in action is Catalysr. An organisation in Sydney run by young people, they have created real value by approaching the challenge of un- and under- employment of migrants and refugees by enabling them to create their own jobs. They have thought inside the box (with an entrepreneurship program), but in a different way (solely focusing on migrants and refugees), and in the process have turned the unfounded assumption on its head that migrants don’t contribute to the economic prosperity of our communities. Now THAT’s innovation.

My friends, innovation is more than just a buzzword.